I seem to be working backwards, a Luddite-in-training. This weekend I finally learned how to spin. Fiber, not stationary bikes, or Sufi dancing; though it was a surprisingly inspiring, even spiritual, experience.
I went to a fiber sale at Maybelle Farm in Wardsboro. This is a farm in its seventh generation, with 34 sheep, chickens, a lot of fencing and some serious tractor talent. My friend has bags and bags of fiber from her 34 sheep, shorn over the past several years. The bags are marked with the name of the sheep, shearing date, weight and color of the fleece.
Since attending the shearing last spring, I have been thinking about Tinka’s fleece. She is a Coopworth mix; her off-white fleece shines. She’s also huge: her fleece last year weighed 17 pounds. That is a lot of yarn, surely eight sweaters’ worth, once it’s been skirted, that is, minus the debris that gets cut off before washing, carding and spinning.
The opportunity to learn how to spin was provided by Patty Blumgren, of Centre Artisans. I worked on a Louet with a single treadle, a Dutch wheel. I spun big, thick, gray yarn for a rhapsodic hour and a half. It was fun, calming, totally mesmerizing. My yarn was over-spun, i.e., too twisty, but I didn’t care. I rushed home, soaked my little skein in very hot water and then weighted it so it dried sort of straight. And there it hangs, proudly, in my kitchen.
I always wondered what people do with all the yarn they spin. Some people are such prolific knitters, spinning opens up the bottleneck in production and provides them with all the raw material they need. Years ago, my friend Janet bought a chocolate brown fleece for eight dollars, carried around in her trunk for awhile, then skirted, washed, carded, spun and knit it into a beautiful sweater fro her partner Ivy. The sweater is named Emmy, after the sheep.
Alas, I am not one of those knitters. I am trying spinning because I make rugs, and rug yarn is hard to find and expensive. I have cut up wool jackets I’ve found (and felted) from thrift stores; I’ve doubled up worsted weight yarns to use on rugs, but there is always this dry, panicky I’m going to run out feeling at the back of my throat when I think about rug yarn. To be able to produce it myself would be great.
This is the classic refrain of an addict, right? We’re on a slippery slope here. Talk to yarn hoarders
and you’ll find them a remarkably inventive and unrepentant lot. During a knitting group’s discussion of a Bernat tent sale (a big deal, trust me) I ventured that I had no room for more yarn. The woman sitting beside me (whom I did not know) laid a conspiratorial hand on my shoulder. “Darling” she said, “You put it in your luggage.”
The point is, even though there was something mystical going on at that spinning wheel, I’m trying to be practical. We do need to get animals into our pastures to keep them clear. Personally, I dream of yaks, angora goats, but sheep work too. As much fun as it would be to summon our wonderful, laconic vet and present him with an indisposed musk ox, just to see his reaction, sheep are probably the wiser bet.
When I really learn how to spin, the floodgates will be officially Open. Which of course, is how I like them.